N.J. adopts law aimed at restricting surveys


Measure does not harm student journalist rights





NEW JERSEY -- A bill prohibiting school districts from administering surveys that ask students sensitive questions without written parental consent was signed into law in January by then-acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco.

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The law, which is seen as a response to parents' complaints about a fall 1999 survey of 2,100 students in the northern New Jersey suburb of Ridgewood, does not appear to limit the information-seeking rights of student journalists.

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Under the law, school districts are the only parties specifically barred from non-consented surveys. Part of it reads, "unless a school district receives prior written informed consent from a student's parent or legal guardian and provides for a copy of the document to be available for viewing at convenient locations and time periods, the school district shall not administer to a student any academic or nonacademic survey" that reveals personal information.

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Some school officials and politicians see the bill as an impediment to research. Some parents, who want permission to review all school-administered surveys, laud its passage as a protecting individual rights.

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The measure was vetoed in January 2001 by then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who felt that parental control over participation would hurt research.

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"It affects most educational and health agencies, not allowing them to conduct these surveys, to do an analysis or diagnosis," Ridgewood Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Stokley said.

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Search Institute of Minneapolis created the Ridgewood survey, which was titled "Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behavior" and asked 156 questions on personal issues including sex, drug and alcohol use, and family relationships.

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The school district used a $4,800 federal grant to fund the survey.

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A group of parents, upset by what they saw as the intrusive nature of the survey, cited a federal statute called the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment in complaints to the U.S. Department of Education and a federal court.

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In December, the Department of Education responded, finding that 66 of the 156 survey questions in the Ridgewood survey breached the statute by asking questions without obtaining parental consent.

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Nunn and two other parents, along with the Rutherford Institute, a group that defends claims of discrimination, took the school district to federal court, claiming violations of the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Although the case was originally dismissed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in December that the case could go forward.n

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LAW:

N.J.S.A. 18A: 36-34 (2002)\n

CASE:

C.N. v. Ridgewood Bd. of Educ., 281 F.3d. 219 (3rd Cir. 2001) (Table)


reports, Spring 2002